Sing of Spring – and Everything Else
Spring Sing began small and grew big. The simple choral competition of 1961 has evolved into a large production that draws thousands of people to the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Much has changed – the setting, the backdrops, and the choreography – but students still compete to win honor and glory for their dormitory.
After a year inside in Porter Hall, Spring Sing moved outside to the lawn next to the dining commons. At first, students simply sang a medley of songs. Dave Talbott ’64 remembers those early years. “Even though it started out very simply, it was such great fun. You couldn’t help being involved in some way, especially when it took place right on campus.”
As the years progressed, students made their presentations more elaborate. They wrote skits, made backdrops, and wore costumes, working the songs into the skits. According to Dave Talbott, Spring Sing became quite popular. “There were over 1,000 people crammed onto the DC lawn. The trees on three sides and the dining commons on the other created a natural amphitheater.”
Lovely as it was, this “amphitheater” offered limited seating. To make reservations, people showed up early on the morning of Spring Sing with blankets in hand. Money meant nothing – perseverance and speed were everything. The crowd impatiently awaited the appointed hour when they could claim their seats. When the directors gave the word, everyone rushed to the lawn and threw down their blankets. The first people there got the best spots – it was like the Oklahoma Land Rush. For a day, the blankets transformed the lawn into a patchwork quilt.
Dr. Lyle Hillegas, the master of ceremonies for many years, gave people an incentive for wanting a good seat. He surprised and delighted the audience in 1967 when he arrived in a hot-air balloon to celebrate the theme, “Around the World in 80 Days.” For a number of years, the tradition of the unusual entrance continued. Lyle came dressed as a sheik astride a camel one year. Another year he drove up in an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Few people knew ahead of time how he would arrive, so the audience eagerly watched for his entrance.
Dave Talbott remembers the year he wasn’t expected to arrive at all. “Lyle was in England, so no one thought he would host. I was Spring Sing adviser at the time, and we resigned ourselves to finding another host. But then we discovered some incredibly cheap airfare from England, and without telling anybody about it – not even his family – we flew him back for the occasion. Somehow I gathered the courage to ask a local resident if a bunch of college students could borrow his beautiful Rolls Royce. I couldn’t believe that he agreed. So on the night of Spring Sing, Lyle dressed up as an English lord. He was in the back seat and I drove that Rolls Royce across the dining commons parking lot and onto the grass right up to the crowd. They went wild when they figured out who was stepping out of the car.
Little did he know how much more exposure Spring Sing would receive the following year. In 1978, a crew from NBC’s “On Campus” came to Westmont to film Armington men’s “Muckey Moose.” Because the filming took place before Spring Sing, some houses thought the directors had unduly favored this skit. “That caused such a big stir on campus,” says Leeba Lessin ’79. “I was on the Spring Sing committee that year, and I remember that all the other houses thought that we were prejudging. Actually, we chose them because they were representative of the various houses, and they had the smallest number of people. That was important because there was a chance that the filming would take place in Hieronymus Lounge due to inclement weather.”
Inclement weather is a fixture in the minds of those involved in Spring Sing ’78. Leeba remembers the morning of April 15, 1978. “It was such a bad feeling, waking up that day and hearing the rain outside. I really wanted it to be a dream.” But it wasn’t a dream. The stage and the lawn at the Bowl were soaked, backdrops were badly damaged, and more rain was in the forecast. There was nothing to do but reschedule Spring Sing for the following Saturday. “People were very understanding of our predicament,” says Leeba. “More people were able to come back the next week than we expected, and we were quite grateful.”
In 1987 Spring Sing was rained out again, but it moved inside to San Marcos High School. To accommodate all the people who had purchased tickets, the students presented the whole show twice. The last performance ended after 2:00 a.m.
Today, students build extensive sets for Spring Sing. Sometimes they spend as much time on the scenery as they do on the music. The large stage allows them to do much more choreography than the narrow, make-shift stage on campus permitted. With the new sets and choreography, the skits have become even more elaborate.
Despite the changes, the spirit of the event remains the same. Spring Sing gives students an opportunity to work together in an atmosphere of camaraderie and fun. It’s a wonderful excuse for families and alums to visit – and a great way to spend an evening.
Another tradition was The White Sheet. Students had to bring white bed sheets from home for the backdrops. Each spring break, students would raid their linen closets for sheets to use for Spring Sing. Dave Talbott recalls the students’ resourcefulness. “We really didn’t have any kind of budget, so we had to make do with whatever we could find. We went through a lot of sheets that we weren’t supposed to be using.”
In 1972 Spring Sing outgrew its home on the DC lawn, and it moved to Spring Sing Hill, now the site of New Dorm. Traditions like the rush and the white sheet survived. But when he became Westmont’s fifth president in 1972, Lyle Hillegas stepped down as master of ceremonies. About this time, students began writing their own lyrics for all the music, and the skits became even wackier. The men from Van Kampen introduced wooden backdrops in 1974, which ended a tradition, but did wonders for linen closets.
An era closed in 1975 when Westmont signed an agreement with the Montecito Association that prohibited Spring Sing as an outdoor event. In 1976, it moved to the gym, but the evening turned out to be a disaster. So in 1977, Spring Sing premiered in its present home, the Santa Barbara County Bowl.
Although many people were sorry to lose the intimacy of Spring Sing on campus, the County Bowl presented new opportunities. Tim Furman ’77 produced the first County Bowl show, and he pointed out the advantages of the move in a flyer to participants. “The facilities will enhance our production tremendously while providing a convenient and comfortable place for our families, friends, and alumni. And, more importantly, the use of the Bowl will provide for added community involvement.”